When discussing my inside sales training courses with potential clients, I’m often asked about the educational theories that I practice. Before my career in high tech, I taught public education courses for special needs children. Typically, my students had challenges in learning, often exacerbated by communication and attention challenges. A lot of what I discovered while teaching my students I put in practice today (believe me, no one dozes in my inside sales classes.)
Today I want to discuss some important motivational theories from educator Madeline C. Hunter of UCLA, who passed away in 1994, but whose teachings resound today. Although this post is primarily dedicated to Inside Sales Managers, it applies to everyone. Hunter was a teacher, and it was critical to her that learning was reinforced on a consistent basis. Here are four of her most important concepts, along with a few comments from me, all applicable to optimal inside sales performance:
1) Regularly scheduled reinforcement leads to rapid learning. I’ve always advocated coaching your reps on a regular basis. Scheduling coaching sessions on the calendar ensures that they will actually occur, and not be sidetracked by other issues.
2) Intermittent reinforcement leads to remembering. When you’re not actively coaching, be sure to occasionally reinforce important sales and qualification concepts. I’ve always liked “lunch and learns” as a great way to intermittently reinforce.
3) Positive reinforcement is critical. Negative reinforcement tells the rep what not to do, while positive reinforcement tells the learner what to do. One of the ways I like to positively reinforce during a coaching session is to use the words “Here’s what you can do to make that last call even more powerful.” That way, I’m focusing on the rep’s success instead of what he or she failed to do.
4) Reinforcement must be appropriate to the learner. You have a diverse group of personalities on your team, and they are each intrinsically motivated in different ways. And they may have different cultural backgrounds, too. Some like to be publically praised, while others may be embarrassed if they’re singled out in front of the group, even for successes. So make an attempt to understand how each member of your team relates to public praise. You can easily pose this question during individual performance reviews, and knowing this information can improve overall team communication, too. For another idea, several managers I know post weekly and monthly sales results on a white board, good for some internal competition, and it also lets under-performing reps understand what they’ll need to work on for continued success. The board speaks for itself, and can keep management from making cultural faux pas that could make good performers cringe.
As a manager, you’re also an educator. There’s a lot to digest in Dr. Hunter’s four points, and education is always an ongoing process. So I encourage you to think through what Madeline C. Hunter has to say, and add her precepts to your Best Management Playbook.
Francisco, a terrific veteran rep who took my inside sales training class a few years ago, is one month into his brand new quota-bearing inside sales job, and already he regrets taking it. “How could I have avoided this? I thought I’d asked everything in the interview!” He told me the story, and I’ll admit it, his dilemma was a new one on me, too. Here’s his story, and following that, some ideas to help ensure that it doesn’t happen to you, too.
Francisco accepted a job with a company selling a software solution, and its recently-introduced SaaS iteration. His team was tasked with selling the SaaS solution. After one week on the job, he found out that:
1) The field sales team had the right to take any of Francisco’s leads and sell the opportunity. Naturally, they took all the big ones. When they converted to a sale, Francisco got no commission.
2) The Sales Development Reps (SDRs) made the determination of whether to forward the lead to inside sales or field sales.
3) The SDRs were only commissioned on sales made by the field. They were not commissioned on sales made by Inside Sales (guess who got all the good leads?).
4) One of Francisco’s prospects wanted to see a white paper on the SaaS solution. There wasn’t one. When Francisco asked Marketing to create one, they responded that the company hadn’t yet determined that the SaaS product was worth putting money into. The company considered SaaS to be an unproven technology (!), and wanted the inside team to “prove” they could sell it before any marketing resources would be contributed. After expressing concerns about this with the rest of his SaaS inside sales colleaugues, he found that all they worked on were smaller opportunities, and even though they were closing, they weren’t making any money. They were all considering leaving.
OK readers, come up for air yet? When you’re interviewing, you really don’t consider asking if your sales team is considered an “experiment,” do you? And you don’t expect field sales will cherry-pick your best opportunities, do you? And you don’t expect the relationship with your SDRs will be adversarial from the beginning, do you? There’s a lot to remember as you interview for an inside sales position. But if Francisco had asked the following questions, he probably would have smelled a rat:
1) Describe the marketing programs that you are using to support the product I’ll be selling.
2) When the SDR develops a lead, who does he or she pass it to, and what criteria does he or she use to determine who it gets passed to?
3) How do SDRs accrue commissions or bonuses? Describe any SDR leads that do not accrue a commission or bonus for them.
4) When will I get paid my commissions? (This is my own favorite, and it fleshes out situations in which you only get paid when your company gets paid; you might have made the sale, but if the customer pays late, you take the hit, not your company. And you can be guaranteed that when you leave the company, you’ll have accrued commissions on which you’ll never get paid).
What makes the inside sales business fascinating is that you really do hear something new every day. I try to help good people to avoid working for companies with poor business practices, and loads of prospective and current inside sales reps have downloaded my Getting hired for your ultimate inside sales job! whitepaper. This week, I’ll be adding those “Francisco” questions to that document.
Have fun, enjoy your work, but if your company isn’t measuring up, have a look around. But as this post emphasizes, do your best to ensure that you make as informed a choice as possible.
“We need to do a better job of identifying the decision process and developing org charts to support it,” I was told by a VP of Sales at a well-regarded high technology company recently. That’s an important element to qualifying prospect accounts, and something we cover in our inside sales training courses. If you can identify with this VP’s concerns, here are 8 tips that you can put to use today to fix the problem and get your orders in faster:
1) Understand that there’s a difference between the Decision process and the Approval process. The Decision team arrives determines the technical solution under consideration, but it still has to be paid for. That’s where the Approval team comes in. All players need to be identified.
2) We always believe in beginning the qualification and sales process by calling high, generally to the CXO ultimately responsible to the decision, where we can gather important information on the initiative driving the interest. Or we create one. From that point, we’re often referred to the lower-level people chartered with gathering data and recommending the solution.
3) If you elected to start at a lower level, you’ll need to determine the higher-ups that will need to sign off on it. If you started lower, a good way to ask this question is: “If we were to draw a line from your desk to the CEO, what other individuals would also need to approve it?” That’s an effective and non-threatening way to get the names you need. If you don’t get names, get the titles. You can then fill in the names by doing an intelligent search on LinkedIn.
4) The Approval process always involves the financial side, which includes the CFO, and often a Purchasing Manager or Purchasing Agent. So be sure to ask a question such as “Once it’s approved by the Decision team, tell me how the funding is approved from the financial side of the house.”
5) A good rule of thumb is that any purchase over $30,000 must be signed off by the CFO. There are valid reasons for this. Among them is the fact that the CFO may elect to put the purchase under a different budget category, especially toward the end of the financial year, when unspent funds can be re-allocated. Expect that the CFO will always be involved.
6) Most companies have a “wall” between the decision team and the financial team. The reason for this is that the decision team knows it needs the solution, but Finance is going to figure out how much it wants to pay. Since price negotiation is a big part of the responsibility of Finance, they don’t want decision folks to be bugging them about timelines for implementation. In many companies, once the decision to adopt the solution has been determined, it’s taboo for decision folks to talk to anyone in Finance during the negotiations.
7) When your PO is “stuck,” much of the time it’s because the negotiation process is underway. And when a timeline for implementation is critical, if often takes a high-level discussion between the VP of the Decision team and the VP of Finance or the CFO to unstick it. People with the title of Manager often have to take it up to their Directors and VPs, make their cases, and ask the VP to “walk it over the wall.”
8) This underscores the importance of knowing everyone on the decision team and having had discussions with the appropriate VP or CXO. You’ll also need to know who, on the Financial Approval team, will be addressing your paperwork. If you don’t have org chart software, draw the org chart with boxes and lines graphically, with dotted lines going over the Financial “wall” if necessary. Drawing a quick chart can help you to ensure that you’re aware of everyone involved.
Follow these 8 tips, and you’ll know everything that’s important in getting your order, and you’ll never be blindsided by someone in the decision or approval process you weren’t aware of. Add these important tips to your Best Practices Playbook.
Presidents’ Day is like a lot of other holidays for me, a great time to clean up my desk, go through old stacks, and dust a few hidden spots. The phone won’t ring, so I can actually get it done. There were a couple of ancient proposals on my desk that hadn’t come to fruition, too. I always archive my old “no-go” proposals in my database, so I decided to go through them all, and see what ever happened to the people who’d asked for the proposals in the first place.
Let me tell you about them. These people were all pretty good folks, but they just couldn’t get funding for my inside sales training courses. I’ve stayed in touch with quite a few of them. A bunch of them have moved to other companies, where they ended up getting funding, then finally were able to work with us. But other people I’d lost track of. I looked them all up on LinkedIn, and they’re with some really dynamic companies now. So I’m contacting them all this week to say hello and to see what’s up.
If you’re a quota-bearing rep, you’re going to have a file of dead proposals, maybe even dating back to other companies for whom you’ve worked. We salespeople tend to be so engaged with what’s currently on the plate that we forget what happened three, or five, or eight years ago. Today, it’s so easy to make and keep business connections that it makes sense to review those old proposals and find out what’s happening with your old contacts. You put a lot of work into those proposals that didn’t go anywhere. And it could still be productive.
Next time you get a couple of free hours, why not go through those old proposals? And why not re-establish a business friendship? Evolving technology has made doing this easier than ever. Go through those old files and call some old acquaintances. The landscape might have changed to the extent that you can rekindle some old interest. And I guarantee that you’ll be surprised at where some of your old contacts have ended up.
In last week’s mailbag, I received a note from Eva that indicates a common dilemma, prompted by my post on Daily Call Metrics. Sound familiar to you? Read on:
I was interviewed for an inside sales manager position where the CEO stated that the inside sales reps were required to complete 120 calls per day. I don't know about much yet about selling their product line, but allowing 3.5 minutes per prospect per day seems ludicrous. I personally over-achieved my sales goals exponentially every year in inside sales and never made anywhere near 120 calls per day. Proper preparation of a sales call takes longer than 3.5 minutes. How would you approach this company with regard to this policy if you were selected to continue in the interview process or perhaps take over the position?
OK, so reps realistically get 6 hours of telephone time per day, the other two hours being spent on miscellaneous admin stuff, including CRM updates. The CEO therefore is looking at 3 minutes per call, in order to crank out 20 calls per hour.
If you were to pursue this position, I’d have a discussion around building mutually agreed-upon objectives involving management and the inside team. Getting the team and management together in making mutual decisions is a management concept that’s been around since at least the 1950s, and it’s been proven over and over again that companies become more profitable when the employees have “buy-in.” Today, many CEOs are young, some are inexperienced in managing people, while others just don’t care.
In my second interview, I’d try to determine which category this CEO falls into. If the CEO falls into categories 1 or 2, then a discussion in terms of how you’d go about restructuring KPIs would be in order, and the CEO should welcome it. After all, that’s what he or she should be hiring you and your expertise for. As a precursor to your prescriptive ideas, you should ask how he or she derived the 120 calls per day formula. To help with the analytics, revisit my earlier post and help him or her out with the math leading to meaningful KPIs.
If the CEO just doesn’t care, the job isn’t right for you, and you’ll be in the unenviable position of having all of the responsibility and none of the authority. Your direct reports might not like or respect you much, either. I’m a real believer in getting people to want to do something, rather than making them do it. They're better motivated that way, and team communication improves, too. Always bring them into the KPI decision process.
Best of success, Eva, and let us know how it goes!
Each year at this time, I like to review what most interests the readers of my inside sales blog. While we have a lengthy subscription list (thanks for joining us, and do invite your colleagues to do the same), we get readers from tons of internet searches, which drives the lion’s share of our reader statistics. So what did people want to read about last year? Inside sales tactics and inside sales jobs and hiring posts headed up the list. Here were the top 5. If you missed any of them, just click. Here are 2012’s Top 5:
1) 5 Most common Price Negotiation Techniques. Price negotiation tends to be at or near the top of every quota-bearing rep’s list.
2) 20 characteristics of a Superior Inside Sales Person. Judging by feedback from our readers, this post is equally popular with sales people as well as sales management.
3) How to prepare for a Sales job interview: Not exactly like a date, but close! Thousands of people were looking to either enter the inside sales business or improve the positions they already had. The information in this post includes a number of key to succeeding.
4) 5 basics to handling sales objections. There are a number of ways to deal with objections. Here are five classics that you shouldn’t miss.
5) 5 personality traits of a superior inside salesperson. They’re not what you might think they are, either. As usual, we don’t shy away from being controversial on this one.
That’s it for 2012! Re-read those posts above that are appropriate to you, and add them to your Best Practices Playbook. Thanks for joining us in 2012, and have a great kickoff to your year in 2013!
This past week I‘ve been working with a Maintenance Renewal team chartered with bringing in past due contracts. Some of these have been past due for months, and more than a few are in excess of $100,000. So why didn’t they close within the deadline period?
In a nutshell, it was due to fear of calling high.
In every past due account, the rep had several conversations with lower level people, all of whom promised on-time purchase orders, and none of whom delivered. In coaching these reps, the excuse was that these lower-level contacts were nice people, and we didn’t want to offend them by “going over their heads.” Their titles ranged from purchasing agent to Systems Engineer. There were no VPs or CXOs in the names to be called.
In my Maintenance Renewal classes, we discuss the reasons that reps have got to call high when closing on renewals contracts. There are other issues as well, but the main problem is that many reps aren’t high enough in the decision chain to talk with anyone that cares. The reps I’ve been working with this past week are now calling high, and they’re getting results.
So if your support renewal purchase orders are stalled and past due, I recommend these six tips that you can start using right away to get your orders in on time:
1) Cold call high, at the CXO/VP level, specific to where in the customer organization your product or service is being used (in our case, it was IT). Do it early in the sales process, and don’t wait for it to go past the due date.
2) Describe to the exec the product or service that’s being used, who or where it’s being used, and how it’s being used.
3) Explain that you’re calling to get a PO before service on it shuts down.
4) You may get asked why you didn’t call so-and-so (when so-and-so is associated with being involved in the sign-off process and was your initial contact). Explain that so-and-so is wonderful to work with, but the PO is past due, so you need executive approval to get a PO.
5) It’s a given that you should have visited the customer’s website to understand its business, and be able to articulate what your product or service does, in layperson’s terms, in two minutes or fewer. The exec will be asking intelligent questions, so you’ll need to provide intelligent answers.
6) The exec will ask “why are you calling me?” early in the conversation. Be able to articulate what you need (a PO), why you and his or her company need to work together to generate it, why the consequences of shutting down support will be detrimental to the company, and why you’re calling that exec to get the PO.
Maintenance and Support renewals are a specific type of sale with its own characteristics. Much of the time, the name you have on the call sheet is not the end-user, but instead is a purchasing contact. That’s just one of the differences. If you’re involved in this type of sale and are having challenges, follow the 6 tips I‘ve outlined above, and I guarantee that within three months, your past due renewals accounts will shrink noticeably and your revenues will jump accordingly.
Add calling high early in the sales process to your Best Practices Playbook.
I’m a real believer that what happens in our homes often translates to our behaviors at work. Here’s one example: try beginning a b2b cold call with the question “How are you today?” Odds are, the prospect won’t give you even 10 seconds before he or she hangs up. The reason? That question has been the standard opening of business to consumer telemarketers for so long, that just about every business person rebels at being asked this question to open a cold call. And everyone’s tired of getting telemarketing calls at home (yes, there’s an appropriate acronym for that phrase, “HAYT”).
I’ve always been an advocate of the National Do Not Call Registry (the DNC list), back when few of my professional associates were. Bothering people at home was eventually going to hurt our b2b inside sales industry, I thought, because if folks get bugged enough by junk calls at home, they’ll stop answering their work phones, too. And I think that’s essentially a huge problem that we’re starting to see today, in a very big way.
I found a recent newspaper article, All Tangled up in a rise of robocalls, by Jennifer C. Kerr of the Associated Press, to be compelling reading for those of us in the b2b inside sales world. Here are some statistics she cited, and the reason for my concern:
According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), which oversees the DNC list, the number of b2c telemarketers who regularly checked and scrubbed DNC numbers from their call lists went from 65,000 in 65,000 to 34,000 in 2011. Just about halved. Robocall complaints have jumped from 65,000 in 2010 to 212,000 in 2012. Just about doubled. And you and I both know that most of us don’t bother complaining, even though we’re on the DNC list. Instead, we just look at Caller ID, then decide we won’t answer the phone. Less bother than complaining.
And that’s the essence of the problem: people are being trained at home to use caller ID to vet all telephone calls (I’ll bet you do the same at home, too… when’s the last time you took a call from someone you didn’t know?). They’re now relying on Caller ID at work, too, which means it’s going to get tougher getting new b2b prospects to take your calls. Jerry Cerasale, SVP of Government Affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, was quoted in Kerr’s article. He doesn’t like robocalls either, and notes that direct marketers are increasingly using email and targeted internets ads, rather than making calls. How well does that work? When’s the last time you actually clicked on something inside of an unsolicited email? And as I mentioned in my post of a few weeks ago regarding the over-proliferation of social media, people are starting to decrease that pipeline as well too, as they try to regain control of their overstuffed lives.
What happens in your own home is a microcosm of what happens in your prospects’ business offices. Our prospects are very very smart people, and the best of them are skeptics. For now, some of them are still answering calls from people they don’t know, but they’re considerably fewer than they used to be.
So what can you do to win some b2b battles in a war for attention that gets tougher every day? (In addition to being a realist, I’m also an optimist, so read on for the payoff… ) In our inside sales training courses, I teach people to do everything they need to do in the very first call to a prospect, and you should too. That means fully qualify him or her in a few very short minutes, then close on your call objective. You may not get him or her on the phone ever again. That means no asking “is this a good (or a bad) time to talk?” Why provide an option you don’t want him or her to take?
Because of autodialers and robocalls in the b2c world, or b2b inside sales world is going to get more challenging, real fast. The Federal Trade Commission is up in arms, there are 209 million people on the DNC list, and I won’t even get into the b2c telemarketing scams that are reported weekly in news services. Caller ID is now, and will be for the foreseeable future, your biggest b2b challenge. So when you get someone on the phone with whom you’ve never spoken, be compelling, use the short amount of time you have wisely, and treat the call as if your professional life depended on it. And add qualifying and closing on an action on the first call to your Best Practices Playbook.
I’m doing some inside sales training in New England this week, and decided to look up John, an old acquaintance who I thought would be incredibly wealthy by now. I last saw him more than 10 years ago. He was the owner of a successful IT company and he and his wife had just bought a beautiful $million home in Kennebunk, Maine. His new business venture involved call centers in India, and he’d asked me to consider helping with the training. The deal didn’t look like a good fit for me: too much customer service and not enough sales. I didn’t know nearly enough about the ins and outs of doing business in India. Turning it down, I advised him to utilize the services of Barinda, an Indian-American associate of mine, just in case there were “issues” specific to doing business in India.
John never contacted my associate, and he and I moved in our separate directions over the years. I had assumed that his venture had been wildly successful, as he’d been there just when the boom hit. Upon meeting him again, I was certain I’d be hearing about how I really should have gotten involved. But John was nowhere to be found, in Kennebunk or anywhere else. I Googled him.
It turns out that in the early 2000s, John was accused of bouncing a $200,000 check in India, and was jailed for a time. His wife attempted t get him home through the services of a lawyer. And a story surfaced on the internet stating that the U.S. Department of Labor was suing him as well.
John’s beautiful house is history, and he’s apparently no longer in Maine. He has no LinkedIn profile, and his website is all in Chinese. According to WhoIs, he no longer owns it. Perhaps most telling, I’ve not found resolutions to any of these issues through the internet. For all intents, John has vanished.
At the time, turning down John’s working idea seemed plum crazy. I didn’t think John was dishonest, but the idea just didn’t work for my business model. And for years, I’ve been assuming that John made a bundle. I’m telling this story because most of us are optimists. We like to think everyone runs an honest shop and makes good decisions, and we admire the entrepreneurial spirit. Most of the time, we don’t hear about the failures. But like me, much of the time, we just don’t follow up. I still don’t believe John’s dishones. But he appears to have made some errors in judgment. It could have been me or Barinda in jail, if either of us had signed on. Sometimes your best deals are the ones you don’t take. In retrospect, I think John would say the same thing too. That deal was a bad one for him.
What's the moral of today's story? Don’t always focus on the big bucks. Instead, follow your gut instinct, and don’t be afraid to walk away on a deal that just doesn't fit right. Take the risk that the other guy will make the significant money. If you’re in Sales, you may have to make a decision similar to this one every few years. For every Steve Jobs, there are probably more than a few Johns. And they may not even be dishonest, either. Just the wrong place, wrong time, wrong story, and wrong business decision.
Footnote: I’m keeping John’s last name out of the story intentionally to avoid having it showing up on search engines. For corroborating data, see http://www.deseretnews.com/article/994663/Utahn-is-seeking-husbands-liberty.html?pg=all
I had the pleasure of having a couple of pre-sales technical support people in a recent inside sales training class that I delivered. They were there because the Director of Inside sales thought that they might benefit by learning more about what the inside sales team needed to make a sale. I ended up coaching one of them, Dan, on a few pre-sales teach support calls. We learned a few things during that coaching session, and they’re going to tremendously help the inside sales reps sell faster and more effectively. Here are four questions we’re now asking as part of our pre-sales tech support conversations that are really going to accelerate the sales process:
1) What’s your title?
2) What’s the name of the project for which you’re looking for a solution? (doesn’t have to be a formal name, either, just something the internal people use at the prospect site)
3) When does the solution have to be on board?
4) What are the consequences to your organization if the solution isn’t on board on time?
These are questions that pre-sales tech support wasn’t asking before, but they are now. The answers to them tell the inside sales team a little about the urgency of the situation as well as the position of the person who discussed it. In many companies, the results of discussions in pre-sales tech support calls get added to the CRM database, but without any non-tech qualification data. As a result, inside sales people don’t know which calls to prioritize. These four questions will solve that problem, and make for optimal team communication.
Occasionally, companies will ask us to train their pre and post-sales technical support teams to work better with sales reps, and we’ve got a tech support sales course that does that. Meanwhile, those 4 questions above are part of what I teach in the class, and should be part of every pre-sales tech support rep’s Best Practices Playbook.